How many times have you wanted to walk away, to admit to yourself that you can't do something, and give up? Most of us carry on, sometimes at great emotional cost, but this week Will Young has done what, to many, is the unthinkable: he quit.
When Young announced he was leaving the Strictly Come Dancing competition after just three live shows, we wanted answers. Is he ill? Has somebody died? Has he fought with another contestant? Is he furious that head judge Len Goodman told him to "turn up, keep up and shut up" on his last live show on Saturday? When the answer came, that it was for "personal reasons", the media at large decided this simply wasn't good enough. Where was the guts? Where was the gore? Come on, Will, let us have it, all of it.
In a world where news reaches us faster than ever and can be shared at lightning speed to all corners of the globe, there is a demand to know as much as possible, twice as quick. There's no room for nuance, or backstory, we just want the cold hard facts right here, right now. In a world of soundbites and memes, we tend to dehumanise those at the centre of the story – we just want the dirt and, of course, the pictures. What this means is that Will's refusal to expand on his "personal reasons" has led to two days of the very kind of speculation you'd imagine someone in Will's position would want to avoid.
Paparazzi, their moral code written in invisible ink on the back of a raffle ticket at the best of times, have followed Will everywhere – walking his dog, putting his bins out. Lucky he's a gay man and has a sense of style and not a woman with no makeup on, otherwise the tabloids would really be going to town, so all we have to go on is that he's looking "downbeat" and "haunted", like anyone ever looked euphoric taking out the trash. Had he been grinning from ear to ear, no doubt he'd have been accused of taking the decision to leave lightly, a decision which, really, has zero effect on the TV show – there will be contingency for early departures, as it's happened before – or to anyone watching at home.
Sure, they handed over a few pence for their phone vote, and their licence fee funds Will's salary for taking part and the sequins on his bolero jacket, but beyond that, whether Will Young appears on the show every Saturday night makes no difference to them. But it does to Will. And, thanks to our gnat-like attention span and eagerness to hit the share and like buttons before we even think, we have forgotten something important. Two things in fact: Will Young is just a guy, and he has struggled with anxiety in the past.
Anxiety is a cruel kick in the balls. It's a thankless, heartless, vicious bastard that is an equal-opportunities assassin. It doesn't care who you are, how much money you have or whether you won Pop Idol, it comes for you, sometimes without warning and BOOM you are done for the day. Will has spoken very bravely and openly about his issues with anxiety, undergoing therapy for "extreme hypervigilance of the nervous system" and suicidal thoughts. Were this happening to someone you loved, you'd want to protect them, shield them from questions or prying eyes. Yet this is a celebrity and, as we know, celebrities belong to us, and Will's refusal to give us the skinny on why he left Strictly means he's fair game.
It's no wonder Will doesn't want to go into details. A relative dying or a physical illness would get him a free pass for dropping out – in fact many online commentators were baying for Anastacia to leave the contest when she injured herself in the second show – but mental illness we still, ironically, can't get our head around. We can't see it or feel it, so we dismiss it, refuse to understand. Stars like Will talk openly to raise awareness, but we still treat it with suspicion. What are we so worried about? That it's contagious? That maybe we too have been ignoring signs our own mental health could do with a once-over?
When former One Direction member Zayn Malik cancelled live shows earlier this year, he very bravely admitted – and I don't know why I say "admitted" like he'd committed a crime, but hey ho – he was struggling with anxiety, his detractors were quick to dismiss him as a spoiled celebrity. One columnist pointed out he'd been on a night out just the evening before and seemed perfectly fine. "Maybe he should have thought of that before leaving the band," said another. But this is the thing with anxiety, it comes from nowhere, and you can't predict how it will make you feel.
Some would say that if Will Young had known he would struggle to compete with his anxiety that he shouldn't have taken part, just like Zayn shouldn't have gone solo. But this is wrong. Anxiety wants you to give up, it wants you to stop trying, to offer yourself up to it and let it devour you. But you cannot, you must not. Will was right to take part in Strictly – he was right to try. And now he has been even braver and realised "I'm not ready for this yet". But he gave it a go, and he will recover and succeed again, at something else.
So as you're poring over the pictures of Will trying to deal with this fallout, remember he's a human being. He feels the cold, he trembles with fear, he just wants to move on and how much detail he chooses to give about his life is not our concern. We do not own him. And if you're taking or enjoying photos of Will Young putting out his bins, consider climbing in one yourself. Because you too are trash.